| Posted 08/27/09 at 03:31 PM||Reply with quote #1 |
|Below is a quote from the Preface to The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders. I would appreciate it if those of you who find the argument for the existence of God from the historicity of the resurrection compelling would comment on this quote, specifically. |
Here are some more specific questions you might consider when considering your responses.
To what extent do have certainty about the life of Jesus?
To what extent do we need certainty about the life of Jesus?
To what extent to we have knowledge when we don't have certainty?
To what extent is the phrase "most scholars" useful? and to what extent can it be ignored?
To what extent does motive in the ancient authors complicate our ability to be certainty?
To what extent do the religious and non-religious value certainty? do they value it differently?
To what extent is our certainty about the life of Jesus limited? do those limitations matter?
Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obliged to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom attained. A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such a warning. We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime. They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and in any case the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved. We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him. Today, we do not have good documentation for such out-of-the-way places as Palestine; nor did the authors of our sources. They had no archives and no official records of any kind. They did not even have access to good maps. These limitations, which were common in the ancient world, result in a good deal of uncertainty.
“Preface,” The Historical Figure of Jesus. E. P. Sanders.
| Posted 09/13/09 at 01:42 PM||Reply with quote #2 |
|Really? No one has any thoughts?
I thought we liked history.
| Posted 09/13/09 at 02:54 PM||Reply with quote #3 |
|I think Sanders is right about the limits of history. History can rarely ever give us any kind of certainty. But in the case of Jesus, I also agree with Sanders that there are certain things about Jesus that we can be very sure about. On pages 10 and 11, Sanders gives a list of things about Jesus that are, in his words, "almost beyond dispute." They include:|
*He was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate
*His disciples saw him (in what sense is not certain) after his death
*As a consequence, they believed that he would return to found the kingdom.
Of course no conclusion can be more certain than the premises upon which it is based, but I think a fairly strong case can be made f0r the resurrection. So I think the resurrection is fairly strong evidence for God.
>To what extent do you have certainty about the life of Jesus?
I'm more certain of some things than others. I really have no doubt whatsoever that Jesus was crucified for claiming to be the Jewish messiah.
>To what extent do we need certainty about the life of Jesus?
I don't think we need certainty. There's very little we have certainty about even in our every day lives.
>To what extent do we have knowledge when we don't have certainty?
I understand knowledge to be justified true belief, so I don't think it requires certainty at all.
>To what extent is the phrase "most scholars" useful? and to what extend can it be ignored?
If it comes from a scholar, and he's speaking on his field of expertise, I think it is generally reliable since scholars in their field usually have a good feel for what other scholars in their field think. The more scholars in a particular field who say "most scholars in our field think such and such," then the more sure I am that it's true. But if it comes from somebody who is not a scholar in the field they are speaking about, it's less certain. If it happens that I know better from my own readings, then I ignore it. Or if the person doesn't provide any references or give any reason to accept the claim, I might ignore it.
>To what extent does motive in the ancient authors complicate our ability to be certain?
I think motive can actually work FOR us. It's especially useful when applying the criteria of embarrassment.
>To what extent do the religious and non-religious value certainty? do they value it differently?
I think everybody values certainty when it comes to certain subjects, but not when it comes to other subjects. When it comes to the subject of religion, it seems like both the religious and the non-religious place a great deal of importance on certainty. But they don't require the same certainty in their every day lives. I'm generalizing,of course.
>To what extent is our certainty about the life of Jesus limited? do those limitations matter?
They are limited in the ways Sanders said they are. There are some things about Jesus we can't know at all because they aren't recorded anywhere. Some historical theories are more speculative than others. Whether our limitations matter or not depends on the particular aspect of Jesus' life that we're talking about. As a Christian, I think the most important things in Jesus' life include the fact that he claimed to be the Christ, that he died for sins, and that he was raised from the dead. It matters a great deal how we can be sure of those. But whether the incident with Mary Magdeline recorded in John actually happened or not doesn't seem very important.